Falling Down - Why Solitude in Landscape Photography is a Prerequisite for Creating Art
It’s 36º C outside and I’m driving a car without air conditioning. That’s a lie. I’m not driving at all. There’s a 30 kilometer queue ahead of me on the drive home from work. As I’m writing this, I work part-time as a writer about 100 km from home. It is in these moments that I question my future and battle with keeping my sanity.
Sharing a queue with ten-thousand other cars is not good for my mental health. In fact, when I’m out in the landscape taking photos, I preferably don’t run into anyone for several hours, or even days. In this, I’m not alone. The frustration in this queue runs at all time high. An Audi driven by a middle-aged man with a suit and a flushed face cuts in front of me and I have to pump the brake in a split second. You could almost sense his blood pressure rising. The man’s attire is somewhat of a commonality among people here in rush hour. Ironed shirts in either white, light blue or a patterned mix of the two seem to be uniform.
While I’m almost past Amsterdam, and about to turn onto the freeway to Utrecht, I realize that I am extremely lucky not having to wear the same clothes as everyone else. My job doesn’t require that. However, I do need to be in the office during the same 8 hours. Tuesdays are the worst. We’ve got multiple accidents along the road ahead, closed lanes and the temperature in the car is rising as we’re slowing down until we come to a dead stop. I’m in the same boat as so many people here and I wonder why I don’t give it up for the uncertainty of landscape photography.
Longing for Solitude
Inside the car, the heat becomes overwhelming. Opening up the windows doesn’t do anything and with the AC gone, the fans only go up to setting 4. I find myself gazing off to the left. A small bank of heavily polluted wildflowers separates 6 lanes on either side of the busiest road in the Netherlands. A bee descends on a violet thistle which reminds me of a photo I took a couple of years ago. I remember checking the weather in the weekend for potential summer storms. To my surprise, a Level 2 severe weather watch was announced for where I lived back then. Level 3 is the highest, assigned only to storms that have a high chance of producing large hail, tornadoes and sever wind-gusts like down bursts. I leaped at the opportunity and packed my camera bag. A short drive took me to the coast, where a patch of flowers in the Dutch dunes made a fine foreground for the approaching storm front. Ahead of the front, emerged a multi-cell structure full of heavy lightning. I love thunderstorms for many reasons. One of them being that lightning equalizes energy in different parts of the atmosphere, often taking 10 to 20 degrees Celsius off the temperature in a matter of hours. Man, I’m aching for a thunderstorm right now for that very reason.
Strangely enough, it’s not the lightning, the sudden drop in temperature or the act of setting up the tripod under a huge display of lightning that I miss right now. It’s getting out of this car and out of the crowd.
Rhythm, crowds and routines are the undoing of my sanity. And queueing on the same road in a crowd every Tuesday has me silently screaming today.
Finding Creativity equals finding Mental Space
The introvert mind doesn’t do well with many stimuli. All external factors demand attention and consequently, energy. Crowded places sap my energy, while I find solace in empty areas. It’s why I love going to the forest at ungodly hours or plan trips to the mountains. The emptier the area, the emptier my mind gets.
Somehow, by processes unknown to me, this mental space translates itself in a boost of creativity that can last many days. While it may sound like that creativity comes from a positive place, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes I could get really pensive and contemplative from spending time in the outdoors. On occasion it even brought me to tears. The immensity of wilderness can have you asking big questions.
I’ve wrote my wedding vows in the wilderness and I’ve met my true self in the wilderness. Landscape photography is often glorified to be some sort of a dream job. But it’s a job in challenging conditions. Nature can throw a lot at you and it isn’t always a battle against the elements. Spending time alone in the outdoors can make you realize who you are and what you want from life.
One such outing comes to mind. As I’m scrambling up a corrie in the Dolomites, I notice that there’s a footpath on the opposite side of a fast and deep cascade of water. I would not call it a waterfall, but there’s too much height difference to name it a creek. And it isn’t wide enough for a river. Anyway, I’m looking up towards my intended destination and see that I have a long way to go. Somehow I’ve missed the footpath. The thought of crossing the cascade enters my mind. The risk is high.
I’m alone out here and there’s no cell reception. What if the current is too strong? What if a loose rock slips from under me and have me tumbling down into the valley? I mean, it is steep, slippery and a long way down. It’s an exciting thought. On the one hand, I could be saving time and on the other hand I could be ending my life here. I decide to go up a little more while looking for a better way to cross. There’s about two feet between two solid, but extremely slippery rocks. I’ve decided. I’m jumping.
The backpack goes first. I fling my gear over to the other side and make a run for it. It took about half an hour of flight time (at least it felt like that) before touching the Earth again. The rush was insane. There are moments where you get this feeling of indescribable zest for life. I mean, this felt like my first kiss or something. I’m running up the remaining part of the corrie and whistle a tune. Sunset draws in and the moon rises over the mountains. All I’ve got to do now is find a decent foreground. These are the moments that outshine every dark or somber experience for me and I’m reminded of such adventures when my mental state turns brown on the freeway.
Is it all Worth it?
There was a moment here in the car where I could have sworn I saw the same license plate as last week. My simple mind found it funny, since it spelled out a bad word. Now our cars are next to each other again in roughly the same area between two of the largest cities in the Netherlands. What the hell am I doing here, when I could be lugging camera gear in the outdoors? It’s easy to get dragged into a spiral of negative thinking. At least, for me it is.
What I’m doing here is choosing to offer me and my wife added stability of income, so that we can live in a house, feed ourselves and our cats and pursue things that give us energy on a regular basis. The truth is, I like comfort. When I return from a trip in the Dolomites, I love nothing more than to be in a house that offers me a place to wind down and let the experiences sink in.
You have to know that landscape photography isn’t a stable income. In some months, I can make a decent living. Other months, usually in summer, there isn’t a dime to made. So I’d have to save up really well. There’s also the case of having to give up a part-time job that I really enjoy. I like my colleagues, my boss and the things that are in my job description. Not many people can say that.
So to answer the question if queueing is worth all that, I’d have to say yes. At least for now. But it is damn hard realizing that sometimes when thinking back to the solitude landscape photography has on offer.